Engaging with Taliban pragmatic

India’s participation in the recent Russia-hosted talks on the Afghan peace process marks an important milestone in the country’s foreign policy. This is the first time that Delhi is engaging with the Taliban. Of course, Delhi’s role was in an unofficial capacity; it sent two retired diplomats to the Russian meeting. Hitherto, it had refrained from dealing with the insurgent group. The Taliban’s strong ties with Pakistan’s ISI were an important reason for India’s wariness. Its role in the 1999 hijack of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi confirmed India’s fears that the Taliban is willing to be used as a tool of the ISI to undermine India’s security. In the years since that hijack, Taliban has continued to attack Indian nationals and projects in Afghanistan. It has even attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul and consulates in other parts of the country. Understandably, India refrained from dealing with the Taliban.

But a shift in its Taliban policy was becoming necessary. The ground situation in Afghanistan merited a rethink. The Taliban’s control over territory in Afghanistan is growing. Its participation in a future government, in case of a peace settlement, increasingly looks inevitable. Even former foes of the Taliban like Russia and Iran are now engaging the insurgent group. By not engaging with the Taliban, India was in danger of isolating itself. India’s national security interests and its economic and other interests in Central Asia would be imperilled if its Afghan diplomacy excluded the Taliban. It was increasingly evident that India had no option but to engage the Taliban. Participating in the Moscow meeting was the first step in that direction.

There are no permanent friends or foes in international relations. Besides, good diplomacy requires being sensitive to shifting ground realities and crafting policy accordingly. The need to engage the Taliban was long-overdue and the Narendra Modi government has done well to make the shift. Talking to the Taliban does not require India to accept or endorse its obscurantist ideas and misogynist outlook, nor certainly its terrorism. It does not require India to abandon the Ashraf Ghani government, either. It only requires India to be flexible in its approach in dealing with Afghanistan and engaging with more stakeholders there. India’s long-standing position on the Afghan peace talks is that the peace process and the settlement should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. This position does not change with India taking its first steps towards dealing with the Taliban. Analysts have been saying that the Taliban has shed its anti-India outlook and that there are leaders who want to distance themselves from the ISI. This should encourage India to advance confidently in engaging the Taliban.

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Engaging with Taliban pragmatic

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